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Barclay James Harvest: Concert For The People (Berlin) (Remaster)

First a truth-in-advertising statement:

The first concert I ever attended as a kid was Barclay James Harvest, and the third LP I ever bought was ... yup, Barclay James Harvest. So expect a wee bias!

Perhaps the real point is - although never recognized as one of the big 5 - or even the big 10 - back in the golden era of progressive music, this band was very much in the limelight, they were signed to EMI at the same time as Pink Floyd, EMI's Harvest Records was named for them, and people bought their records and went to their concerts in droves. In fact, some 200,000 lucky Germans saw them on August 30, 1980, when Barclay James Harvest played a free concert at the historic Reichstag in Berlin. Look at the cover art - 200,000 people is the equivalent of four stadiums! The recording became the group's biggest selling album in England, rising to number 15 in 1982.

They'd just lost keyboard and Mellotron-maestro Woolly Wolstenholme, so the sound carried a stronger guitar emphasis than usual. But despite that change, each band member's performance was almost flawless, and some songs approach the perfection of their original studio recordings. The recording itself was less than perfect, though, and equipment malfunctions yielded strange noises and buzzes throughout the concert. So several overdubs were done - which explains why the album wasn't released until 1982, and which may also explain those wonderful performances.

For those not familiar with Barclay James Harvest - commonly known as BJH - their brand of music was soft, pastoral, almost folksy songs with wonderful melodies and an early Moody Blues quality. The vocals are nicely harmonized, and the aggressive guitar, and prominent Mellotron lines are leading characteristics.

The song called "Berlin" was obviously one of the crowd pleasers. It's a heart-rending piano-led ballad fully deserving the crowd's enthusiastic response in any venue - but the Berlin audience's reaction is spine-chilling. Another crowd pleaser was "Mockingbird", a well-known 1970s progressive anthem and a long-time personal favorite with its gentle, simple melody and innocent lyrics. Played against a backdrop of keyboards instead of the orchestras they often used, it still comes across as a rich, nicely layered piece that deserves its place in the prog-rock hall of fame. "Child of the Universe" is a shopping list of the problems of the world - at the time. It has references to Northern Ireland, South Africa and Vietnam, and it's interesting to reflect on what the all-consuming world events were 25 years ago, yet today, they've been relegated to the pages of history books. "In Memory of the Martyrs" is another haunting piece, in the vein of a Celtic ballad, and they often finished up with "Hymn" which works well, as a soft, thoughtful closer.

On the other hand - "Sip of Wine" and particularly "Life Is for Living" are more approachable and radio-ready than most of BJH's output, and although the audience may have enjoyed them, they aren't strongest pieces on the record.

Berlin (A Concert for the People) is a brief but excellent summary of BJH's earlier works, and Eclectic's re-master brings a sound quality that was simply not possible in the early '80s, and includes 2 extra tracks that were recorded at the concert but weren't on the original LP. If you don't know Barclay James Harvest's music, start here and work backward through their studio recordings. If you're already familiar with their music, you need this one.

Track Listing:
1. Love on the Line
2. Mockingbird
3. Rock n' Roll Lady
4. Nova Lepidoptera
5. Sip of Wine
6. In Memory of the Martyrs
7. Life is for Living
8. Child of the Universe
9. Berlin
10.Loving is Easy

Added: January 19th 2007
Reviewer: Duncan Glenday
Related Link: The Band's Website
Hits: 2621
Language: english

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